Various Artists

Music of Indonesia, Vol. 6: Night Music of West Sumatra

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This volume samples three varieties of intimate, "indoor" music from the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra, an area considered especially rich in performing arts. The Minang people have roots in the island's central highlands. They are fervent Muslims and speak a language close to Malay, but they maintain shamanistic traditions and ancient magic, and feel a strong spiritual connection to their ancestral villages far away.

Five saluang (flute) pieces open the program. This is music for late at night, following a performance of pop music. Over the slow melodies of the flute, low-toned, smoky, and soothing, a singer selects from a vast repertoire of verses (pantun), looking for those that will especially move the small audience. Pantun are usually sad, but can be happy or "half-happy." The degree of rhythm indicates the amount of happiness. The melodies tend to be chant-like, but it's the words that count. These are usually fundraising events, and if the singer chooses the right pantun and fulfills audience requests, the listeners will give money.

Two eerie selections of rebab pariaman follow. This coastal music features a three-string fiddle made from a coconut shell, and lyrics that blend mythology with current events. An elderly, male vocal and edgy dissonance created by the two fiddles convey considerable drama even without translation. The volume concludes with three long flute and vocal pieces taken from a performance of dendang pauah that would normally last for six or seven hours. Again, an old man's voice is central, here bending notes to match the wavering, graceful melodies of the bamboo flute. This form recounts tales of travel and adventure, usually sad tales, the goal here being to break the hearts of the listeners. This is music of spare intimacy. The singer, a clerk by day, has cassettes of dendang pauah on the local market. But his music is little known outside the region.

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